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Aberfan Colliery Disaster, 1966

Photographs and a letter relating to the Aberfan Disaster of 21 October 1966.

Aberfan Colliery Disaster, 1966
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At 9.15am on 21 October 1966, 144 people, 116 of them children, were killed when a tip of coal waste slid onto the village of Aberfan in south Wales. It first destroyed a farm cottage in its path, killing all the occupants, before engulfing the school and about twenty houses in the village. The children killed were mainly pupils at Pantglas Junior School. At the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Aberfan Disaster the National Coal Board was found to have been responsible for the disaster due to "ignorance, ineptitude and a failure of communication". The collapse was caused by tipping over a natural spring which had slowly turned the coal slag into a liquid slurry. The tipping gang up the mountain had seen the slide start, but could not raise the alarm because their telephone cable had been stolen. (The Tribunal of Inquiry later established that the disaster happened so quickly that a telephone warning would not have saved lives). After 11am on the day of the disaster nobody was rescued alive, but it was nearly a week before all the bodies were recovered.

Donations flooded in to the Aberfan Disaster Fund set up by the Mayor of Merthyr to aid the village and the bereaved. The loss of so many lives, together with the underlying suspicion that this was the price of years of cheap coal, led to a widespread concern to do something to help. By the time the Fund closed in 1967, nearly 90,000 contributions had been received, totalling approximately 1,750,000. In today's money, that would represent ten times that amount. One of the many scandals of the Aberfan disaster, the coercion of the people of Aberfan to pay 150,000 for the removal of the remaining tip, was highlighted by Iain McLean and Martin Johnes, authors of Aberfan: Government and Disasters (Cardiff: Welsh Academic Press, 2000) to the then Secretary of State for Wales Ron Davies in May 1997, and within three months the Welsh Office repaid that figure to the Aberfan Disaster Fund.